Caroline Broadhead, Nic Sandiland and Angela Woodhouse: Close Distance

Posted: March 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Installation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Caroline Broadhead, Nic Sandiland and Angela Woodhouse: Close Distance

Caroline Broadhead, Nic Sandiland and Angela Woodhouse, Close Distance, Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, March 11

Close Distance

An image from Close Distance (photo: Nic Sandiland)

The first impression as you enter Wollaton Hall’s Prospect Room from the narrow stone staircase is one of emerging into light and space. The first owner of this grand Elizabethan pile, Sir Francis Willoughby, had the room designed as a palatial lookout over the sylvan prospect all around, a place of privilege from which he could proudly survey and show off his walled domain. Six floors below, in the rock foundations on which Wollaton Hall stands, lived the household servants with little or no prospect at all. The architecture of Wollaton is thus an existing material imprint of a social hierarchy that no longer exists.

Close Distance, a subtle and imaginative installation by artist Caroline Broadhead, filmmaker and designer Nic Sandiland, and choreographer Angela Woodhouse, uses the present physical imprint to shed light on aspects of domestic life that can no longer be seen, and by setting the installation in the Prospect Room its creators neatly invert history by allowing servants to be re-imagined in this locus of privilege to which they would never have had access. Giving them the key to the Prospect Room was none other than Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, which now runs Wollaton Hall as a historic house and natural history museum, and which commissioned Close Distance as part of Dance4’s Nottdance Festival. This is creative commissioning at its best.

Broadhead, Sandiland and Woodhouse have added the touch of a smile to their reflections on life below stairs at Wollaton through a series of elaborate artistic conceits. The servants are represented by four dancers (Martina Conti, Kristian Tirsgaard, Vanio Papadelli, and Alice Labant) whose movement phrases, choreographed by Woodhouse, nuance the lives of the servants through silent gesture, sometimes inhabiting their despair and sometimes their hopes and aspirations. These choreographic episodes have been captured on film by Sandiland and looped on to small tablet screens embedded into items of furniture sourced by Broadhead. You may need to lift the lid of the sewing box or open the drawer of the escritoire to see the screen, but open or closed the films are running all the time — like the servants, who had to sleep on their feet. To this already complex layering of artifacts Broadhead has added samples of locally sourced material from the Middleton embroidery collection — a piece of lace or a square of luxurious carpet — that frame each screen. A gentle musical continuum of Handel concerti is pierced only by the persistent sound of the servants’ bell.

The focus of the Prospect Room is outwards, not inwards, and its only furnishing was possibly a telescope or a pair of binoculars similar to that in the installation; it was never intended for furniture so the four period items Broadhead has placed there along with the utilitarian wooden stepladder serve to reference other rooms in the house. Once arrived in the room, the privileged spectator wanders freely in this airy space from one artifact to the next in no particular order, building a sensory impression of what life might have been like below them. What Nottingham City Museums and Galleries has commissioned, in effect, is a playfully subversive display of social history at Wollaton Hall that paints the household in a way the taxidermy downstairs in the Natural History Museum can never achieve for its collection of wildlife.

One of the beauties of this kind of installation is that its very subtlety forces you to think, to contemplate and ask questions; it is an imaginative archaeology of past sensations that requires further study and exploration. In avoiding an approach to history that profiles the dates and achievements of the wealthy and powerful, Broadhead, Sandiland and Woodhouse have not only recalled an underprivileged past but have recalibrated it: it is the servants who, after all these years of confinement, have finally emerged into the light and space.

Close Distance is open at Wollaton Hall until May 1, 2017.


Angela Woodhouse: Between

Posted: November 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Angela Woodhouse: Between

Angela Woodhouse, Between, Studio Theatre, Central Saint Martins, November 7

Stine Nilsen in Between (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Stine Nilsen in Between (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

There are two kinds of perception in Angela Woodhouse’s Between: that of events at our own human scale and that of an intimate aural, visual and sensual kind. These broadly reflect the respective artistic disciplines of the two collaborators; Woodhouse in dance and Caroline Broadhead in textiles and jewellery. The challenge of creating a work based on these different ways of seeing is the space in which it is performed: theatre is designed to enlarge the small into something heroic whereas a gallery space is conceived around our relationship with what is small and can be observed up close. Between, which has been performed in both kinds of environment, requires elements of each but I suspect the Studio Theatre — a rather cavernous black box with black hangings that have been drawn in to reduce its scale — is not entirely comfortable in its intimacy.

Lying on the floor as we enter the dimmed space is a body under a coat; our small group gathers round, not knowing quite what to expect. Darkness descends and a small light picks out a pair of feet traveling upright under the coat into invisibility and silence. From the same direction comes the sound of a rustling material that manifests under an intense halogen beam as an animated coat isolated against the blackness, a magical image that attunes our senses to a disembodied human scale. Between is a series of such sensory adventures creating an intimate relationship between the three dancers (Stine Nilsen, David McCormick and Martina Conti) and the standing or ambulatory audience that is both observer and participant. The role of the dancers with their pared-down gestures and calm, controlled movement slows down time and increases our powers of perception, leaving us somewhere in between theatrical experience and the intimacy of our own space, between the known and the unknown, light and dark, comfort and discomfort, clarity and obfuscation.

Nilsen in a diaphanous black gown moves silently into an arena of light. Conti sidles up to her, puts her arm in Nilsen’s sleeve, then the other, slipping the garment deftly off Nilsen’s shoulders onto her self; we are voyeurs in an intimate act. The two women take turns removing and replacing the gown, accelerating the seamless transference like a dynamic sculpture. Nilsen takes a hand to her necklace and pulls it hard. It breaks and the pearls scuttle on the floor. Our aural concentration kicks in with the sudden stillness of the moment. McCormick gives Conti a similar necklace but holds on to it as they pull away from each other, stretching it to the limits of its elasticity; the sense of expectation in the space is palpable. Conti finally reclaims the necklace as she approaches McCormick with a smile and puts it on the floor while McCormick moves towards a square of light projected on to someone’s pocket. He puts his hand in the beam of light to reveal a filigree pattern of gold leaf on the inside of his hand like a decoration or a mark, shining and glinting as he turns his hand slowly, following the light’s moving path until it is extinguished.

Conti and Nilsen embrace without quite touching, like a form within a form. They select a member of the audience to include within their enfolding arms and choose my daughter. It is an arbitrary choice, but the confluence of time and place in this encounter is profoundly moving for me, highlighting one of the key elements in the work: pinpointing a privileged relationship between the lives of the performers and the lives of those attending.

McCormick stands among us with his arms raised, walking forward with space as his partner and returning to repeat the same meditation three times, without conclusion. Conti approaches a man to touch hands. McCormick circles Conti in slow motion, drawing her into a gentle, spiraling dance, chest to chest, arms to head, like two docile stags with locked horns. Conti circles away but moves back to McCormick whose hand is behind him like an angel’s wing. She pushes on his outstretched arm as if on a turnstile, but it is he who spins off. Nilsen leaves, leaving Conti in place withdrawing her arm from one sleeve of her sweater, then the other, her fingers slowly disappearing in the light. It appears she is turning her sweater back to front but then she takes out her slip from underneath, offers it to the woman in front of her and leaves. Nilsen returns to reveal a pattern of gold on her forearm. She takes the arm of a young woman and by gently rubbing their two arms together attempts to transfer the gold as a ritual gift. After Nilsen leaves, the young woman shakes her arm as if waking from a dream.